In our Final Round series, we take a look an in-depth look at as many fighting games as we possibly can. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1994’s Brutal: Paws Of Fury…
Martial arts and anthropomorphic animals is a formula that has seen varying degrees of success over the last couple of decades. Just look at the Kung Fu Panda movies; there’s been a bunch of sequels and a substantial number of video games (that aren’t terrible!) somewhat respectfully based on the premise of the animals of Chinese martial arts. Then look at direct-to-DVD titles such as Karate Dog (yep, that’s Chevy Chase as the voice of a ass-kicking CGI dog, fighting Jon Voight…) , and you can see how low things can get in this area.
The boom of 2D fighting games in the early 90’s seemed to be a perfect fit for this genre, with technology growing at such a high rate to allow developers to create better graphics, streamlined gameplay and an overall experience that rivalled even the more complicated animated movies. 1994’s Brutal: Paws of Fury was GameTek and Eurocom’s attempt at capitalising on this, and that’s where part 9 of our Final Round series picks up…
Released on a number of consoles, Brutal: Paws of Fury featured animated animals that each specialised in a different form of martial arts, coming together to take part in a tournament. Gameplay-wise, Brutal plays incredibly similarly to the two biggest franchises of that era; Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, as players whittle down each other’s health bar over 2 rounds.
While the game’s presentation feels unique and fresh at times, almost everything about the controls and fighting are disappointingly terrible. Movement feels incredibly clunky, and the moves are so unbalanced that it is possible to beat the game by spamming a simple move over and over again (completely removing the need to learn special moves).
One of the highlights of the game is the inclusion of incredibly detailed information about the fight that players have just had, listing off how many punches and kicks were thrown during the fight, and how accurate they were. This encourages players to improve, and gives them the means to hone in on their weaknesses. It’s just a shame that the fights are so unenjoyable at times.
Promotional Material & Box Art
The game’s promotional material centers mainly around the stylised artwork of the Brutal: Paws of Fury roster, along with the expected press quotes, screenshots and an in-depth look at the backstory of each character. I’m particularly fond of the ad that shows a muppet-like fist punching through a wall.
Like the magazine ads, the box art for every port of the game is a variant on the stylish artwork of a handful of Brutal‘s fighters.
The plot for the game is a simple one;
Every four years on the uncharted Brutal Island, the world’s toughest martial artists are invited to compete in the most grueling tournament, aptly referred to as the Brutal Island Tournament. Only the winner of this tournament gains the privilege to challenge Dali Llama, the greatest fighter in the world, for the coveted Belt of Heaven championship.
Brutal: Paws of Fury‘s core playable roster consists of eight fighters, with two more only being unlockable via a cheat code, and a further two fighters becoming available on the updated version of the game.
- Kung-Fu Bunny – A rabbit monk.
- Prince Leon of Kenya – A lion rock star.
- Rhei Rat – A rat who is an accomplished Thai boxer.
- Tai Cheetah – A cheetah who is mentoring Kendo Coyote.
- Kendo Coyote – A coyote who is motivated by greed.
- Foxy Roxy – A lycra-wearing vixen who is a politician and social activist.
- Ivan the Bear – A bear who claims to be the strongest animal in the world.
- Pantha – A panther who is a member of a sinister cult.
- Karate Croc – A crocodile bar brawler.
- Dali Llama – Brutal: Paws of Fury‘s final boss! A llama who is currently the holder of the Belt of Heaven championship.
The updated version of the game, Brutal: Unleash The Claw, also adds:
- Chung Poe – A mole who transforms into an anthropomorphic bat-dragon hybrid during battle.
- Psycho Kitty – A cat who apparently suffers from hyperactivity.
The look of these characters, on the fighter select screen at least, is pretty impressive. The same cannot be said for the actual sprites that are used during fights, as many of them look pretty different to their key artwork counterparts. This makes the game feel like two different games mashed together, with one being more enjoyable to look at than the other. Below are the character sprites for the original game’s roster for reference;
Throughout Brutal: Paws of Fury, players will fight on a number of different stages, situated on a pretty basic overworld map.
Brutal Unleashed: Above The Claw brought a handful of extra levels with updated graphics too.
The level designs are pretty decent for a game of this type, even though many of them remind me of the uninspired mess of Shaq Fu‘s stages. There’s an aspect of these stages that make the game even more unplayable at times, and that’s the inclusion of parts of the level in the foreground, which completely blocks the view of the fighters at times. I understand that this is an attempt to make Brutal: Paws Of Fury slightly more immersive, but it ends up as an irritatingly poor element of arena design.
Brutal: Paws of Fury doesn’t contain any real bonus stages as such, but it is worth noting that after each handful of fights in single player mode, players are treated to a special stage that teaches them a brand new special move.
While the moves themselves are pretty unspectacular, this is a nice feature that allows players to learn something that feels different to the monotonous move-spamming that is required to get through the tournament.
Besides some obvious graphical updates on the SEGA 32X and MS-DOS versions of the Brutal Unleashed: Above The Claw upgrade, the gameplay and visuals of Brutal are pretty similar across the board for every port.
Upon completion of the game, players are treated to a small, character-specific ending, then a lengthy credits sequence. These credits are slightly quirky, as it heavily features some “inspirational” quotes from the development teams, and a somewhat snarky “do you expect a code?” line that tells players that completing the game is reward enough.
Brutal: Paws of Fury is a fun concept that feels like it had heaps of potential, but is majorly let down by clunky combat, poor controls and some really crappy arena design. The characters vary between interesting and completely forgettable, which isn’t helped by the massive inconsistencies in their designs.
There’s a handful of features that aim to make the game more competitive, but the gameplay renders these null and void for the most part. The update brought some slight improvements, but it’s nowhere near enough to make the game an “essential” for fans of the genre.
Are you a fan of this anthropomorphic animal beat-’em-up? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!